Fondo Esperanza runs support programs for sectors of the Chilean population that are socially excluded and thus subject to greater levels of vulnerability. In 2013 the bank started a program to give the country’s prison population opportunities for the future through entrepreneurship. The penitentiaries of Osorno, Linares and Quillota have now been joined by those of Victoria and Traiguén.
Fondo Esperanza offers the prisoners an integrated service comprising financial products (microloans and microinsurance), training and support networks.
“Proyectándose hacia el futuro” (Looking to the future) and “Libertad” (Freedom) were the names chosen by these entrepreneurs for the social action groups –comprising three and five microenterprises respectively– that arose out of this pilot program. “When we were given the opportunity to form a community bank with these characteristics, we saw it as a great challenge. We really wanted to do it, but we were worried about how it was going to work, and whether it would be well received”, said the adviser Denis Contreras. “For me it’s been really important. It’s an interesting challenge, because we often say that our entrepreneurs don’t have enough opportunities, and as an institution we want to be able to give them more, but these people have even fewer”, he adds.
The members of these groups, who get together twice a month for training sessions, produce handcrafted items made of leather and wood. The pieces, which are all totally handmade, are sold by their family members, and the work supervisor at the penitentiary pays the fees. All the money raised goes to the families, savings accounts and personal expenses.
The entrepreneurs are grateful to Fondo Esperanza for providing practical support for his aid. “They are giving us a great opportunity. Not everybody or every initiative comes this far, and we’re sincerely grateful for the confidence they have placed in us. Don’t worry, we’re not going to let them down! From this small seed we’ve sown, we’re going to grow a strong healthy tree to ensure we make a go of it”, says Claudio Rifo, one of the beneficiaries.
According to Carolina Fontealba, deputy manager of the Sur Austral zone at Fondo Esperanza, this initiative represents an extension of the services provided by the institution. “It’s seeing how we’re opening up to an even more vulnerable segment that encourages us to carry on. What’s more, it’s a way of developing the chain of solidarity among all the entrepreneurs, who see it as a form of re-integration, as the idea of prison is usually seen only as punishment. So in that way we’re doing our little bit” she says.
“We hope that by giving them the integral microfinance service they’ll be able to see themselves as individuals and as microentrepreneurs, as part of a family support system, of a group, so they can rebuild trust in others and confidence in themselves. We see this is a learning opportunity, and where we can learn from them too. We began this work more than one year ago and we’re finally seeing results –but twice over”, says Verónica Toro, manager of the community bank. “The aim is to be able to completely fulfill our mission with families and entrepreneurs who need a second chance, in a society that’s not often prepared to give them one”, she concludes.
Attending the presentation of the first microcredit in Victoria were Patricia Belmar, the regional police chief, Álvaro Rivas, the warden of the penitentiary, First Sargent Osvaldo Leviñir, the work supervisor, and representatives of Fondo Esperanza.